Global Warming

For a long time we have heard about the threat of Global Warming. We have heard that water levels will rise, flooding large tracts of land. We have heard that there will be more occurrences of severe weather than ever before. However, what has the international community done to solve this issue? The governments of the world have met several times to try to solve the problem of global warming. Each of the countries that attended the conferences has set their own greenhouse gas emission targets yet the threat of global warming still looms. This is due to the fact that many countries (e.g. Canada and the United States, etc.) have failed to live up to their greenhouse gas emission commitments. The United Nations needs to introduce new legally binding legislation to ensure that countries live up to their promised reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. In order to fully understand why the United Nations needs introduce this type of legislation we must fully investigate: why countries have failed to live up to their promises, what the Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) have done, and how to best plan for the future to ensure this does not happen again.
The first UN meeting on global warming was held in Stockholm, Sweden in order to discuss what, in fact, global warming was. The next UN Conference would not be for another two decades. In 1992 a UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) was held and the conference "saw over 150 governments gather in Rio de Janeiro to endorse Agenda 21, an ambitious plan to promote ecologically sustainable development into the 21st century".[1]
These agreements have yet to make a difference because, as Kevin Conca writes, "most [countries] fail to grapple with the underlying political, economic and social practices that create environmental harm".[2] Even the former executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), Mostafa Tolba, was alarmed at the inaction of governments on their international agreements on greenhouse gas emissions. Tolba said:
I am obliged to report to governments and the public that progress has slowed. The commitment to set up ministries and to enter into international agreements has not always led to an equal commitment to action. Environment Ministries exist, but their role in national decision-making is frequently marginal. Agreements have been entered into freely, but the will to enforce them has often been lacking. There is a paradox here. On the one hand public concern has been growing steadily, as manifested by the growing power and influence of "green consumers"...On the other hand, the pace of government has faltered.[3]
This political inactivity is definitely alarming and needs to be combated. However, before we attack the problem, we need to investigate why countries tend to fail to live up to their commitments.
A country that has failed to live up to its greenhouse gas emission is Canada. Canada has failed to meet its signed agreement that it made at the UN Conference in Rio de Janeiro. This is mainly due to the political inactivity and inadequate legislation. Internal government conflicts are the main reason that Canada failed to live up to its treaty. This is because for any international agreement on global warming to work, the provinces need to be involved in order for it to be effective. The provinces need to be involved because under the Canadian Constitution "the federal government is limited in the implementation of international treaties if implementation affects policy areas under provincial jurisdiction [(e.g. natural resources, non-renewable resources, etc.)]".[4] This internal governmental problem has plagued the federal government in carrying out Canada's promises to the international community.
The main provincial opponent to any global warming legislation has been the Province of Alberta. The Province of Alberta is the number one oil-producing province in Canada, and therefore, is worried about the economic impacts that would result from global warming legislation. For example, if Canada lives up to it's commitment made at the Kyoto Conference of a six percent reduction in global warming gases from the current levels, "Alberta's economy...will be more than three percent smaller in 2020".[5] It is these types of economic impacts that are making the provinces reluctant to assist the federal government in living up to Canada's international agreements.
Also, Canada has failed to uphold its commitment to the international community because of its lack of preparation before signing the international agreements. This lack of preparation is especially noticeable, after Canada signed the Kyoto agreement, when then Natural Resources Minister Ralph Goodale gave a speech on December 17, 1997 to the National Press Club in Ottawa. In his speech Goodale admits that the federal government does not "have an implementation plan nailed into place already".[6] Goodale explains this situation by saying that the federal government wants "to be open and inclusive, to work together, with all Canadians, step-by-step, to build a plan that works".[7] This type of thinking has cost Canada dearly in the international political scene because we have, in the past, failed to live up to our global warming commitments.
The non-governmental organizations (NGOs) (e.g. Greenpeace, Sierra Club, etc.) have played their part by increasing global awareness on the issue of global warming. Greenpeace, for example, raises the public's awareness on the issue by exploiting some of the world's top polluters. Also, an important part of NGOs is they provide the technical products and the knowledge on how countries can reach and possibly even surpass their agreement on reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
NGOs are an important function in the international agreement process because they are the ones that can raise public awareness towards countries that have failed to live up to their greenhouse gas emission targets. Also, the NGOs have the lobbying power to exert pressure on governments to introduce the necessary bills to ensure that the global warming treaties are honoured. Perhaps a good example of a successful NGO is the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). As Ken Conca writes, "UNEP came to define its role as a catalyst for international co-operation".[8] UNEP works with other NGOs to co-ordinate the combined efforts of other NGOs and how they can be best utilized for their common goals. UNEP has created "a Nairobi-based network and informational clearing house for over 6,000 NGOs with an emphasis on environment-development concerns".[9] It is this type of action that could be very beneficial to countries. UNEP provides a collective information centre where nations and NGOs can share information on new technologies or ways of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. It is innovations like this one that makes NGOs important in the process of reducing the threat of global warming.
The United Nations needs to make the treaty process legally binding in order to present some legal repercussions to countries that do not meet their agreed targets. These legal repercussions could include a fine and/or an economic embargo. There must also be a consensus on what international environmental laws need to be produced in order to ensure that multinational companies are adequately covered. By ensuring that multinational companies are covered by universal laws, this prevents multinationals from moving from one country to another country that has more lax environmental laws. By setting the global norms for these environmental laws, the United Nations and its members can ensure that no country is unfairly economically punished because of their targets.
NGOs can also be involved in the treaty process. The NGOs can involve themselves by performing research into new environmental initiatives (e.g. non-polluting automobiles, non-polluting electrical generation, etc.). Also, NGOs and countries can work together through centres, similar to UNEP's Nairobi centre, to share information on these new technologies and other pertinent information (e.g. laws, etc.). NGOs can also put pressure on countries to live up to their commitments by lobbying other countries to put political pressure on the ones that do not meet their agreements and/or who are lagging behind in their progress. The NGOs can provide not only the technological support but also the political pressure to ensure that governments will live up to their commitments.
Countries from around the world and NGOs need to work together in order to reduce the effects of global warming. Otherwise, as we have seen before, countries cannot meet their international agreements on their own. By introducing harsh consequences the offenders can suffer both the economic and political consequences that they deserve. These consequences alone should be enough incentive for governments to work together and formulate a plan with each other in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. We must remember that if the United Nations is unable to reach an agreement, it is the people of the earth that suffer the environmental, social, political, and economic consequences.

Primary Sources
"National Forum on Climate Change Opens Today." National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy. 16 February 1998. On-line. Internet. 25 October 2001. Available:
"National Forum on Climate Change Reconvenes Today." National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy. 9 March 1998. On-line. Internet. 25 October 2001. Available:
"Notes for a speech by the Honourable Ralph Goodale." Natural Resources Canada. 17 December 1997. On-line. Internet. 25 October 2001. Available:
Secondary Sources
Beauchesne, Eric. “Kyoto commitment will hurt GDP: study." Ottawa Citizen. 3 July 1998: A3.
"Climate Change." Greenpeace: Greenpeace Annual Review 1997. 1997: 6-9.
Conca, Ken. "Greening the UN: Environmental Organizations and the UN System." NGOs, the UN, and Global Governance. Eds. Thomas G. Weiss and Leon Gordenker. Boulder, Colorado: Lynne Reiner, 1996.
Duffy, Andrew. "Campaign will warn Canadians of global warming danger." Ottawa Citizen. 2 Sept. 1997: A8.
Duffy, Andrew. "Canada among worst greenhouse gas culprits." Ottawa Citizen. 22 October 1997: A1-A2.
Duffy, Andrew. "Canada goes out on a limb in Kyoto." Ottawa Citizen. 6 Dec. 1997: A1-A2.
Smith, Heather A. "Stopped Cold," Alternatives Journal. Vol. 24, No. 4. (Fall 1998): 10.

[1]Ken Conca. “Greening the UN: Environmental Organizations and the UN System.” NGOs, the UN, and Global Governance. Eds. Thomas G. Weiss and Leon Gordenker. (Boulder, Colorado: Lynne Reiner, 1996): 103.


[2]Ibid. 103.


[3]Ibid. 103.


[4]Heather A. Smith. “Stopped Cold.” Alternatives Journal. Vol. 24, No. 4 (Fall 1998): 11.


[5] Eric Beauchesne. “Kyoto commitment will hurt GDP: study.” Ottawa Citizen. 3 July 1998: 11.


[6] “Notes from a speech by the Honourable Ralph Goodale.” Natural Resources Canada.  17 December 1997. On-line. Internet. 25 October 2001. Available:


[7] Ibid.


[8] Conca 112.


[9] Ibid. 113.